News / Health

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchers

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchersi
|| 0:00:00
X
July 12, 2012 7:13 PM
An HIV-positive man diagnosed with an acute form of cancer is free of both, five years after his enterprising oncologist devised a treatment to target the cancer and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Doctors say this man is the first person to be considered cured of HIV. VOA's Suzanne Presto spoke with that persevering patient, Timothy Brown, as well as some of the researchers he inspires.
Suzanne Presto
WASHINGTON — Timothy Brown, a 46-year-old from the western United States, was once known in medical journals as "the Berlin Patient."  He is the man who had HIV, but doesn't anymore.

Brown revealed his identity in 2010, three years after an innovative treatment battled both the HIV and an acute form of cancer in his body.  He now promotes AIDS research.  

"I do have some mobility problems, but apart from that, I feel great.  Yes, it's great being cured," he said last month in Washington at a policy briefing organized by The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR.   

Doctors say he is the first person to be considered cured of HIV.

"I am functionally cured, which means that I don't have any effects from the virus, and I don't have to take medication against the virus," Brown said.  "And as long as it stays that way, which I'm pretty sure it will, I'm okay with that."

Brown was living in Berlin when he tested positive for HIV in 1995.  He took medications to manage the virus.  More than a decade passed, and he started to feel excessively fatigued.  A bone marrow biopsy in 2006 revealed leukemia.      

After chemotherapy treatments, Brown's oncologist, Gero Huetter, suggested a bone marrow transplant.  

Dr. Huetter knew that 1 out of 100 people, mostly northern Europeans, are highly resistant to HIV due to a genetic mutation.  Simply put, they lack doorways that allow HIV to enter their cells.  

Paula Cannon, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, told the crowd assembled for the amfAR briefing that the HIV-resistant mutation was well known to the small group of medical researchers who specialized in HIV.  She explained that when people with the genetic mutation are exposed to HIV, the virus "has nowhere to go and sort of fizzles out."
 
In 2007, Brown went through total body irradiation and then received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor.  He immediately stopped taking HIV medication.  Although the leukemia returned, the HIV did not.  

"The first transplant went well but the second one was pretty horrible, and I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy," Brown recalls.  His complications included delirium, and he suffered neurological damage.        

Researchers stress that such transplants are very dangerous for patients and should only be done in extreme circumstances.   

"Tim had it not because he was HIV-positive," Cannon told the amfAR group. "He had it because otherwise he would have died of leukemia."   

Brown, who used to work as a translator and has limited financial resources, says his life is now devoted to providing hope.

"It's kind of hard sometimes, like, dealing with people who still have HIV.  I'm like, I kind of get a guilt feeling because I..." Brown's voice trails off for a moment. "That's basically why I'm going around the world and talking to people.  I want there to be research."

Dr. Robert Siliciano of Johns Hopkins University says Timothy Brown has been tested repeatedly and there is no confirmed evidence of HIV in his system.  Dr. Siliciano acknowledges that there is some controversy about the fact that a few tests suggest trace amounts of HIV in Brown's system.  But the doctor notes the techniques being used can pick up a single molecule, so false positives are a strong possibility.
 
"Also, there's the fact that Tim has been off treatment for five years and the virus has not started to replicate, so I think you're cured," Dr. Siliciano told Brown at the amfAR briefing, prompting Brown to laugh and offer his thanks.   

Dr. Susan Blumenthal, a senior policy and medical adviser for amfAR, says Brown's case has changed the path of cure research.  
 
"It has inspired us to put 75 percent of our research dollars into finding a cure," says Dr. Blumenthal.  "I think he's a courageous person."

Tim Brown says that he was "scared to death" when he was diagnosed with HIV and again when he was diagnosed with leukemia.  

"Somehow I knew in my heart that I would survive, even though the odds were against me," he said.  "I was probably the first patient that they had in the hospital who would work out in the hospital room. I brought equipment to work out with, and I wanted to stay in shape.  I didn't want to lay in bed and give up, so that was probably a large part of it."  

He adds that it is important for very ill people to have somebody to count on, as he did.

Brown's case galvanizes researchers such as Paula Cannon, who uses gene therapy to develop cells with the HIV-resistant mutation.   

"He's really a symbol of what we can do, what we can aspire to, and hope, and oh my goodness, motivation in buckets," exclaims Cannon.

Cannon says scientists are trying to introduce the HIV-resistant mutation into a person's own bone marrow, making it HIV-resistant.  That would eliminate the risks involved with receiving a transplant from a foreign donor.

Cannon's own HIV research involves a special type of mice.  

"We can do a transplant of human bone marrow into these mice and they will grow us a little human immune system.  We can then infect the mice with HIV, and importantly, we can cure the mice of HIV," explains Cannon.  "So, in the mice, we were able to show that we have the tools now to cure them of HIV, and so we're now trying to translate that into the much bigger mammal, the human being."

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid